Posts Tagged ‘Civil Society’

#GivingTuesday: Help Us Amplify Grassroots Voices in Paris

Monday, November 30th, 2015


Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day for giving back!

That’s why I’m writing from the U.N. climate conference in Paris, asking supporters like you to make a donation right now to help us reach our #GivingTuesday goal of raising $1,000 in 24 hours.

I’ve spent the past two months organizing “The Cost of Coal,” a film festival showcasing award-winning documentaries about the terrible impacts of coal and pollution on local communities in China, Russia, Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

While government representatives are negotiating a new climate deal, we want to bring attention to those who are directly, and daily, affected by the causes and consequences of climate change.

But I need your help to amplify the voices of grassroots activists in Paris. Your gift will make a huge difference to a small organization like Pacific Environment.

Coal Popcorn

So please join me, my colleagues, and the brave grassroots activists we are bringing to Paris to take a stand against climate change and coal—the worst of all climate-changing fossil fuels.

You can help make this our most successful #GivingTuesday yet!

Make a gift now to help us reach our goal of raising $1,000 in 24 hours!

“Monsieur, there’s coal in my popcorn!”

Monday, November 30th, 2015


Today is the first day of the U.N. climate change conference. Thousands of people are coming to Paris to be heard. The metro is free today, streets are crowded.

With 180 countries participating in the negotiations, everyone seems hopeful that this climate summit will be the one where an agreement on a global reduction of carbon dioxide emissions will be reached.

As world leaders are trying to craft an agreement that will begin to curve the trajectory of global greenhouse gases back to a level that will save the planet from devastating consequences, Pacific Environment is amplifying peoples’ voices.

On December 7, we are hosting “The Cost of Coal,” an international film festival that examines the harmful effects of the coal industry on human health—and gives local communities an opportunity to tell THEIR stories at the Paris climate conference.

Coal Popcorn

While government representatives are negotiating a new climate deal, we want to bring attention to those who are directly, and daily, affected by the causes and consequences of climate change.

One film tells the story of a South African community in the Mpumalanga Highveld region, which is home to 12 (!) of the world’s largest power stations. Almost all the people featured in the film have health issues, many suffer from asthma. Yet they keep burning coal in their homes because it’s their only source of energy.

Another film tells the story of indigenous peoples in Russia who lost their land to the coal industry to mine the worst of all climate-changing fossil fuels.

The Philippines, among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, is home to numerous coal-fired power plants that sicken communities. As the festival entry shows, the negative health effects of coal aren’t stopping people from saying “No” to the coal industry and demanding a full switch to renewable energy.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to call on world leaders to scale up action to achieve 100% renewable energy and protect people from worsening climate change impacts.

Solidarity and unity are some of the big themes of this summit—and of our film festival, which brings together participants from five continents and many different countries, including China, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Colombia, Turkey, and the Philippines.

Most of us have never met in person. But we are coming together because we all share one goal—to stop harmful coal production and prevent a climate catastrophe.

Will Human Rights Prevail Again in Paris?

Saturday, November 28th, 2015


Arriving in Paris amid intensive security, over 40,000 people are anticipated to attend the international climate summit this week and next. The attendees include 10,000 delegates from 195 countries, in addition to thousands of journalists, NGOs, scientists, and activists.

This will be the biggest diplomatic event to be held in France since the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was signed here in 1948.  Following the atrocities of World War II, the Declaration was the first global definition of the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (November 1949)

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (November 1949)

Dealing with climate change impacts also implicates human rights. That’s why a U.S. court in Washington State recently ruled in favor of a group of children who had sued the state for failing to protect them from climate emission-caused harms.

The judge agreed with the children’s assertion that the state has an obligation to protect natural resources—such as rivers and lakes and the atmosphere—because these resources are held for all in a “public trust.” The judge found that, “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”

Pacific Environment will be in Paris to help make this connection between climate change and human rights. We’ll host a film festival that showcases the harm coal is causing to communities in several of the world’s most important coal-producing and consuming countries. These films, and the panel discussion following, will allow local leaders to bring their stories forward to the government delegates and the world.

Will the agreement reached in Paris this time make history, too?

I’m Grateful Children Are Using Courts to Challenge Climate Change

Thursday, November 26th, 2015


The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

There are days when I find myself doubting the truth of that wisdom, popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. But a distinguishing characteristic of environmentalists is our persistent optimism that we can overcome even the largest obstacles and persevere.

And there’s a lot I’m feeling grateful for right now:


  • As we head in to the world’s climate summit in Paris, this round of talks has been preceded by a slew of important steps by major nations to build momentum. The United Kingdom announced a complete phase-out of coal over the next decade. The United States put in place a nationwide Clean Power Plan; killed the XL Keystone pipeline; and signed a bilateral agreement with the world’s other largest greenhouse gas emitter, China, to cut carbon emissions. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an umbrella group of most of the world’s developed nations, agreed this month to restrict their financing of coal plants in other countries, which has been a major driver of wrongheaded coal plant construction in developing nations. And the government of Norway, owner of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, decided to sell of its coal-related investments.



None of these events I’m grateful for would have occurred without the optimism and activism of people like you.

In every instance, the national action described above followed years of steady, hard-driving, persistent, strategically applied pressure by non-governmental organizations and grassroots activists.

Thank you to all who stood with us and our allies and community partners in 2015.


Coal Declines Worldwide – Even in China

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015


“Worldwide, for every new coal plant built, two have been shelved or cancelled since 2010…. In China, coal use declined in 2014, signaling the start of a shift towards greater reliance on renewable energy. And, in the U.S., over 77,000 megawatts of coal energy have retired or are slated to retire.”

This good news comes from Boom and Bust: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, published this week by CoalSwarm and the Sierra Club. The report, together with a new online interactive map, Global Coal Tracker, describes the state of coal use worldwide.

A Chinese language version of the Global Coal Tracker was released this week as well as part of a new website– (“The Coal Problem”). This new online resource shares information on China’s coal industry and the health and environmental impacts of coal.

Coal Tracker

A Chinese-language version of the Global Coal Tracker shows proposed coal power plants and their development status across China.


China’s central government has signaled a commitment to reducing the country’s reliance on coal, but this alone won’t be enough.

The coal tracker shows that while some provinces have canceled projects in an effort to improve air quality, other provinces are lagging behind. What is surprising to see is that even some of China’s wealthiest provinces (e.g., Jiangsu and Guangdong) have ramped up their use of coal power in recent years, rather than switching to a cleaner (and healthier) energy mix. The coal tracker also suggests that local governments are still incentivized to cash in on coal, and that a lot more coal-fired power plants are being built in China than are needed to meet energy demand.

Pacific Environment and our partner Waterkeeper Alliance support a network of grassroots organizations that are watch-dogging the coal industry to increase industry transparency and push for better implementation of environmental laws, national and regional coal caps, and pollution reduction targets. The coal tracker will help them and a broad range of concerned citizens across China identify coal industry trends and ensure a cleaner energy future for all.

Find out more about Pacific Environment’s air pollution and coal work in China here.



Building a Cleaner China from the Grassroots Up

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015


First published in China-US Focus

In a mid-sized industrial city in China, a staff member of the environmental group Green Hope answers her cell phone. On the line is a middle manager at Pearl Steel Group who is calling to ask about a report Green Hope issued on air pollution from the company’s nearby flagship steel plant. In recent years, the municipal environmental protection bureau had fined the plant several times for violations of their pollution permits, but Green Hope’s report – which details these violations alongside photo evidence and testimonials from rural residents living near the plant – finally spurred the company to take action. The company manager asks for a meeting with Green Hope staff to discuss how it might better control its pollution as well as more fully share environmental information with the public.

While this particular story is fictional, events of this kind, which were unthinkable even a few years ago, have become an increasingly common occurrence across China. Brought by stronger regulatory support for public engagement in environmental affairs and a widespread concern about China’s devastating levels of pollution, China’s local environmental groups are finding themselves well positioned to ensure that government promises for a cleaner, greener future are realized.

Space for grassroots environmental action in China has grown in recent years thanks to several key regulatory changes. The first is in the area of data sharing. Citizens are able to access more information than ever about pollution and polluters following the passage of  information disclosure laws in 2008. China’s newly revised environmental law, which came into force January 1, 2015, takes accountability a step further by requiring real-time disclosure of pollution discharge data from key industries. And since the law also allows the government to fine polluters more, and more often, factories that routinely discharge illegal amounts now face a regulatory system that could actually do damage to their bottom line.

The new environmental law also requires that governments respond to citizen accusations against polluters, and clarifies that non-governmental organizations have the right to bring environmental lawsuits. A recent Supreme Peoples’ Court interpretation confirmed that China’s local courts will now be instructed to hear cases brought by citizen groups, including public interest cases. Many environmental groups are positioning themselves to take advantage of this new sphere of action.

Meanwhile, air pollution has become so critical across China that last year Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war on pollution” and the State Council revealed a far-reaching Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan. This included absolute limits on particulate pollution in certain regions of China, and bold wording on “widely mobilizing citizen participation” to help deal with the mounting crisis.

The national government of China is clearly sending a green light to citizen groups to take an active part in forging a more sustainable development path. But what happens region by region and city by city depends on how committed local government actors are to making tough changes – and the extent to which local watchdog groups (like Green Hope) are able to negotiate the space available for participation and advocacy.

One challenge is that local government officials are often unsure of the role civil society groups can and should play. In many cases, environmental groups can and do tactfully remind government departments about their duties to disclose information and listen to public concerns. And in fact, due to these efforts, many local environmental protection bureaus now see grassroots environmental groups as key allies, acting as “eyes and ears” on the ground, and bringing pressure for resolution of problems that officials have been unable to solve themselves.

But attitudes towards grassroots environmental groups varies between government departments as well as between regions. Where environmental enforcement is already a priority, such as developed regions along China’s coastline, citizen groups have an easier time making headway against polluters. For example, some local governments already have aggressive plans to phase out dirty energy; as with Hangzhou municipality’s “zero coal” plan which will phase out coal boilers in two years. In places like Hangzhou, local environmental groups have an important role to play in ensuring these government clean-up plans are enforced. But getting local governments in less-developed “energy frontier” regions to take better care of the environment can be more challenging. High profile scandals in coal development provinces of China have demonstrated some government officials are not only aware of industry misdeeds, they are themselves part of the problem.

More could certainly be done by China’s leaders to facilitate widespread citizen enforcement and engagement– such as enshrining participation principles in China’s next five year plan. But to a large extent China’s environmental groups are already succeeding at turning these principals into reality by setting up independent pollution monitoring networks, pollution reporting hotlines, and online pollution information platforms. Moreover, they are helping ordinary citizens become productively engaged in seeking solutions. For example, in September of 2014, the Beijing based Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs released a cell phone app that allows citizens to monitor pollution discharge data in real time and draws the link between specific sources of air pollution and air quality. Just by releasing the app, some 65 industries came forward with a pledge to correct their pollution record.

More has to be done– China’s water and air pollution issues have never been more severe. But the good news is at least in some parts of China, long-time polluters are feeling the squeeze of robust pollution regulations combined with actual on-the-ground enforcement. And China’s grassroots environmental groups are usually the reason better enforcement happens.

Keeping the Amur River Wild and Free

Friday, December 12th, 2014

The Amur River is the largest, still free-flowing river in Asia, and its basin the most biodiverse region in Russia. But its vast forests, wetlands, and steppes, as well as its endemic tigers, leopards, cranes, and bears are threatened by a voracious demand for energy and natural resources.


Large-scale dam building threatens the mighty Amur River basin, the largest, still free-flowing river system in Asia.


Drawing on lessons learned over the past 25 years, Pacific Environment’s new report, Conservation Investment Strategy for the Russian Far East,  reflects the geographical and strategic priorities identified by some of the world’s most respected experts on the region.

In addition to Arctic ice ecosystems in Chukotka and salmon ecosystems throughout the Far East, the Amur River basin was selected as one of three high-priority regions for future conservation investments.

As the most promising strategies for success in the Amur River basin, the report’s experts recommend focusing on stopping proposed dams on the Amur River and quickly expanding the Amur’s protected areas to include its vast wetlands.

Eugene Simonov, a longtime partner of Pacific Environment, is a successful grassroots activists and one of the world’s foremost experts on the region. He is spearheading Rivers without Boundaries, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups from Russia, China, Mongolia, and the U.S. that seeks to preserve river basins in northeast Eurasia through joint advocacy and promotion of best practices in river management.


In the following Q&A, Eugene highlights the global importance of the Amur River basin.

Q: Why is the Amur River Basin so important for global conservation efforts?

BESIDES ITS OBVIOUS GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY VALUE and outstanding qualities of free-flowing river, the Amur is also an important example of sharp contrasts among countries—natural, cultural, economic, psychological. Russia, Mongolia, and China essentially belong to three different civilizational roots and each of the countries dominated the whole Amur Basin at one time in history. You can hardly find another river basin on Earth that is so deeply divided. You have the country with the biggest appetite for natural resources bordering countries that believe their resources are boundless. Yet they share one river ecosystem and understand they have to protect their common environment, despite the desire to extract and transport natural resources. The future of the Amur depends on where they strike the balance and whether they find adequate common language to agree on rules of cooperation. This is a unique experiment that has a lot to tell us about the solutions to global problems.

Q: The Amur Basin has a well-developed civil society and a wealth of scientists and experts working on conservation. But the region is so vast and there are so many conservation challenges, what is the ultimate priority?

FOR FRESHWATER ECOSYSTEMS, THE GREATEST PRIORITY is to agree on new ecologically sound objectives for common river basin management. Once upon a time, in 1986, Russia and China agreed to ruin this river completely by a chain of hydropower dams in the main stem. The Amur was saved partly because of mutual mistrust, and partly because of a huge educational effort undertaken by conservationists. We have yet to replace the mechanical ideal of artificial reservoirs generating energy with a more sustainable, mutually agreeable management goal.

Q: The 2013 flooding may have been good for the Amur River and its flora and fauna, but it devastated many communities, and resulted in new calls for more dams and flood control infrastructure. How can people value the natural river when it’s a threat to their livelihoods, even lives?

PEOPLE OF THEIR FREE WILL HAVE CHOSEN TO SETTLE IN FLOOD-PRONE AREAS because of their proximity to water, naturally fertilized floodplain soil, abundance of fish, and so on. They do value the natural river. Even at the height of the 2013 floods, polls showed that most people didn’t see dams as a remedy for floods. Funds that the government is now trying to earmark for building new dams could be better used for modernization and adaptation of riverine municipalities, so new settlement infrastructure and economy are better adapted to floods and droughts. Russian regions along the Amur do not lack land resources, so there are opportunities to avoid this conflict just by not building residences and production facilities in the floodplains.

Q: Even if Russian citizens and authorities were to implement the most rigorous conservation standards and practices, won’t China’s voracious appetites for raw materials still overwhelm the Russian Far East?

THE REAL QUESTION IS WHETHER RUSSIAN AND CHINESE AUTHORITIES and businesses could develop and enforce such rigorous standards and practices. The two countries share many environmental objectives (like tiger protection or river pollution prevention). Success is not granted, but quite feasible.

Our Top 7 Wins of 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014


It has been a banner year for us and our local partners on the frontlines of environmental justice around the Pacific Rim.

Here are seven accomplishments I’m especially proud of; they would not have been possible without your support.


Bear and Kronotsky Volcano

Preserving Untouched Wilderness

The Russian Far East is a region of unparalleled wilderness, rich in biodiversity and vast intact ecosystems. But polar bears, walrus, tigers, and leopards are under threat from massive logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling projects. Over the past two years, we worked with dozens of scientists and grassroots activists to develop conservation plans that will help local people protect the region’s unique ecosystems, carbon-gulping forests, and endangered wildlife—even as the Russian government continues to increase the repression of local environmental heroes.



Protecting the Arctic

We protected walrus, bowhead whales, narwhals, seals, polar bears, and other wildlife from the severe harm posed by increased ship traffic in Arctic seas. As a result of our hard-hitting advocacy at the United Nations agency responsible for writing international maritime laws, ships will not be allowed to dump garbage and oil in Arctic waters, and they will be required to avoid marine wildlife on their journey. We also won a historic commitment from the U.S. to help safeguard indigenous cultural and subsistence traditions in the Arctic.


04_Blue Dalian Water Testing 2013yeacrop

Attacking Pollution

We helped Chinese grassroots activists intensify and expand the scope of their watchdog and whistleblowing activities. Our partners are becoming ever more successful at identifying illegal industrial pollution that poisons the country’s water and air. Together with their growing networks of citizen volunteers, our partners feed pollution information to the media to pressure local governments and businesses to clean up their act. Our partners are also increasing their use of sophisticated legal tactics to seek justice for pollution victims in China’s courts.



Safeguarding Endangered Whales

We halted attempts by the oil industry to weaken protections for the critically endangered Western gray whale when the industry tried to dismantle a panel of whale scientists. We frequently work with these scientists to ensure that oil drilling activities off the coast of Sakhalin Island in Russia’s sub-Arctic don’t push the remaining 150 whales to extinction.



Exposing Corruption

We exposed a massive illegal coal base on the Tibetan Plateau. The story made international headlines after local government officials in China initially tried to cover it up for fear of being charged with corruption. Our exposure of the illegal coal base resulted in the closure of operations located within a natural reserve and stronger oversight of coal mining and processing activities in Western China.



Challenging Shell Oil

We and our allies achieved a historic win when a federal court called into question the legality of the oil and gas leases the Bush administration sold to Shell and other oil companies in the mid-2000s. Following this win, Shell announced that it was cancelling its Arctic drilling plans for 2014. The company’s shareholders are also getting nervous—not least due to reports like Frozen Future, which we co-authored to expose the huge financial risks of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic’s treacherous waters.


Suren Gazaryan in Tallnin's Old Town, Estonia

Supporting Environmental Heroes

We successfully nominated our partner, Suren Gazaryan, for the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize—the Nobel Prize for grassroots environmental activists. Suren courageously called out Vladimir Putin and prominent Russian oligarchs for illegally building summer homes in national parks along Russia’s iconic Black Sea coast. He also battled illegal logging and construction in Sochi National Park for the 2014 Olympic Games.


Thank you for standing in solidarity with grassroots environmental leaders around the Pacific Rim!

New Strategies for Conservation Success in Russia

Thursday, November 20th, 2014


Russia’s Far East and Arctic are regions of unparalleled wilderness, rich in biodiversity and vast intact ecosystems. The region is also home to dozens of indigenous cultures, endangered wildlife, and forests so vast they are only rivaled by the Amazon’s.

Over the past two years, Pacific Environment has worked with dozens of community leaders, conservationists, and scientists to identify the best opportunities for conservation success in Russia’s Far East and Arctic.

Drawing on lessons learned over the past 25 years, our new report, Conservation Investment Strategy for the Russian Far East, establishes a forward-thinking set of priorities to help us, our partners on the ground, foundations, and allied organizations achieve important conservation successes in the next decade–even in a changing, and often difficult, political climate.

The report reflects the geographical and strategic priorities identified by some of the world’s most respected experts on the region:



Climate change is altering the Arctic’s ice-dependent ecology, threatening wildlife and indigenous cultures. The walrus is the cornerstone of indigenous economy and culture, since it is also the only source of food for local communities during severe Arctic winters. The report shows how indigenous communities and international conservationists can collaborate to protect walrus habitats and facilitate international policies to protect Arctic peoples and ecosystems.




The most biodiverse region in Russia, the Amur River’s vast forests and endemic tigers, leopards, cranes, and bears are threatened by a voracious demand for natural resources. Russian conservationists have been collaborating with Chinese counterparts to create international protected areas. The report recommends stopping proposed dams on the Amur River and quickly expanding the Amur’s protected areas to include its vast wetlands.




The rivers in the Russian Far East are inhabited by more than half the world’s wild salmon. But the salmon’s survival is threatened by commercial-scale poaching and industrial pollution. In Sakhalin, a coalition of conservationists and commercial fishing companies created a park that protects the most important salmon rivers. In Kamchatka, indigenous peoples have teamed up with park rangers to arrest poachers. The report recommends quickly scaling up these initiatives to prevent the extinction of threatened salmon species.


In addition, the report includes a discussion of current conditions affecting conservation in the region, including systemic threats, legislation, politics, and international conservation policy and examples of recommended strategies and best practices, presented in the form of case studies of successful conservation initiatives.


Get your copy now!





Dirty Dollars: U.S. Tax Monies for a Coal Project Abroad Are Hurting People and the Environment

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
On October 21, 2014, Pacific Environment and allies Sierra Club,, Carbon Market Watch, and Friends of the Earth U.S. released the results of an  investigation that revealed shocking new details on the catastrophic human rights, labor, and environmental violations at a coal project in India financed  by U.S. tax payers via the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank).


The report includes accounts from more than 25 local residents who became victims of relocation, violence, and disappearances and have suffered negative health impacts as a result of the construction and operation of Reliance Power’s Sasan coal-fired power plant and mine in Singrauli, India.

Ex-Im Bank, the U.S. Government’s largest trade promotion agency,  has provided over $900 million in financing for the project—using American taxpayer dollars to support this dirty and dangerous coal project. What’s worse, agency representatives just completed their first trip to Sasan last week, but refused to meet with affected people in the local communities.

Indian civil society organizations and U.S.-based groups have repeatedly alerted Ex-Im to the grave human rights violations taking place at Sasan, but the Bank has continually turned a deaf ear. But despite these allegations, Ex-Im has repeatedly refused to provide monitoring documents for Sasan, disregarding its own due diligence procedures and federal legislation requiring that these documents be made available upon request.

In response, our partner in this effort, the Sierra Club, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today to gain access to all records pertaining to Environmental and Social Management Plans for Sasan. This includes the supplemental environmental reports—encompassing both the remediation or mitigation plans and related monitoring reports—Reliance Power is required to submit for each coal project. Ex-Im has 30 days to respond to the request. Stay tuned for updates.

Pacific Environment has been a leader in challenging Ex-Im Bank’s investments in destructive energy projects around the globe. We  have helped uncover and challenge numerous human rights and environmental abuses, including ExxonMobil’s deadly natural gas pipeline project in Papua New Guinea.





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